Recorded at the Keswick Theatre, Glenside, PA on October 21st 2022, here we find Renaissance performing alongside the Renaissance Chamber Orchestra to celebrate Annie Haslam’s 75th year. I have long been a fan of this band in its multiple iterations, and there is no doubt their 2002 live album ‘In The Land of the Rising Sun’ is one of my favourites, so when I was sent this by keyboard player Geoffrey Langley (who I know from The Twenty Committee) I was definitely looking forward to it. There have been multiple iterations of the band over the years, but most people point to the line-up of Annie Haslam, Michael Dunford, John Tout, Jon Camp, and Terry Sullivan as being the classic, but Michael and John are no longer with us while Jon and Terry long ago departed, but Annie is still there keeping the flame alive. These days she is joined by Mark Lambert (bass), who was a member in the Eighties, Rave Tesar (keyboards, piano), who played on the ‘Rising Sun’ album, drummer Frank Pagano (who has been there for more than a decade), Geoffrey Langley (who joined in 2016) and new bassist Leo Traversa, so this is certainly a valid line-up as opposed to Annie and a host of session musicians.
This double CD set covers decades in music, and we get music from Renaissance, Annie Haslam’s Renaissance and her solo albums, and there is no doubt great thought has gone into the arrangements as the use of the additional musicians provides amazing depth. There are two keyboard players, and their repertoire has been greatly expanded with the use of real strings and horns. I am sure anyone who went to see this tour would have had a wonderful time, and those who purchase the album will be the same people and will happily relive the experience, but I wonder how many will purchase this for pure listening pleasure as opposed to collectors? Musically this is wonderful, and one cannot fault anyone involved as their delicacy and accompaniment is superb, but we cannot look past the fact that Annie is now into her eighth decade, and it sounds like it. That she is not using effects to mask this is to be admired, but while the range is still there, her voice is now quavery and can be quite shrill. She hits and holds the notes, but sometimes they are a little sharp, and I soon found I was not enjoying the album nearly as much as I expected or wanted to. One could never give this to someone as an introduction, it is only for those who already know the material and are pleased to be able to experience Annie performing the songs which they did not expect to still hear played in this fashion. That she can still hit the notes in “Symphony of Light” is incredible, and “The Sisters” is a triumph with wonderful performances from all involved, but sadly somewhat let down by the vocals. Back in the Eighties I was one of the biggest Jethro Tull fanatics around, but when I last saw them in 2004, I vowed never to see them play again as Ian’s voice was totally shot in the live environment. The arrangements and performances from the musicians involved are superb, and there are plenty of opportunities for them to weave their magic, but sadly it is often let down by the vocals, which is a real shame as many of us view Renaissance as being built around Annie and her amazing voice. Sadly, time has taken its toll.
By Kev Rowland